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Why Wagner's Music Still Matters Today

   On the eve   of the 200th anniversary of the birth of  Richard Wagner , the most hotly debated composer in the history of music ,  it's important to realize  that he is not merely  a composer who happened to be an anti-semite  and the favorite composer of Hitler ,the butt of jokes about  obese opera isngers  in  ridiculous  costumes with horned helmets ,  but  the creator  of  some of the most inspired , powerful  and compelling  music  ever written , a  great dramatist  , and  a visionary genius whose  startlingly original operas  have  enthralled countless people all over the world  for over a century and a  half .

    His influence over  composers who followed him was enormous , and he even  caused some later composers to rebel against  that overpowering  influence  and  strike off in radically   different directions .  Such great composers as Bruckner,Mahler, Richard Strauss , Arnold Schoenberg , Camille Saint-Saens, Puccini ,  Debussy ,  and others  would  not have become what they were without Wagner . 

    No composer has ever divided  other composers , critics, musicologists and  audiences  to  the same degree .  Wagner's music  has been  both idolized and  despised  by so many different  people  for a variety of reasons ,but it has rarely left anyone  indifferent .  How could it ? There is something about his music which arouses  either love or  hate in  different people .  It has a kind of primal  power to  effect  people's emotions  .  Some find it  exhilherating  and intoxicating , while  others are somehow repelled by it  to a degree  that  one cannot find with other composers .

    The Great Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) , was one of  the most voiciferous of Wagner's detractors , and sneered at his music  as  pretentious, bombastic  and turgid  , calling himself " Wagner's anti-christ ".  He  thought of himself  as  the Apollonian opposite to Wagner's Dionisian intoxication .   His French contemporary Darius Milhaud (1892 -1974 ) , who  specialized in music of Gallic elegance and coolness ,  was such a rabid anti-iwagnerian that he once  wrote a review  of an all Wagner concert in Paris with  these words alone  "Down with Wagner!"

    A number of earlier French  composers of the 19th and early 20th century  became  passionate Wagnerians , such as Emmanuel Chabrier ,Ernest Chausson,  and others .  Claude Debussy ,  the founder of musical  impressionism even though he did not like to think of  his music as impressionist , was deeply ambivalent  about Wagner and had a kind of love/hate relationship with it  .

     But the worm in the Wagnerian apple remains Adolf Hitler and the *** .  It's a  grave mistake, however ,to assume that  Wagner  turned Hitler into the  sick monster he was .  Yes, Wagner was an anti-semite and wrote an appallingly nasty  extended essay called "Judaism in Music", in which he  accused Jews of being  incapable of creating great art among other things .  However, his anti-semitism  never came remotely close to  the insane extremism of Hitler, and he never  advocated genocide against Jews or anyone else . 

    The problem is that Hitler read his own insane ideas INTO WAGNER , ideas which  cannot be found in the philosophy and aesthetics of the composer .  You cannot blame Wagner for what  Hot;ler caused ,any more thna you can blame Jesus for the Spanish Inquisition .   The composer has been dogged by  guilt by association  since  the second world war .  Even to this day, there is an unofficial ban on performing Wagner's music, either  on teh operatic stage or in concert   in Isarel ,although  eminent  conductors  and  advocates of his music  active in  Israeli musical life such as Daniel Barenboim  and Zubin Mehta ,have attempted  ,without much success, to  defy this  .

    Another stumbling block for many people is the fact that Wagner, while  a towering genius , was  hardly the nicest  human being imaginable . In addition to being an ant-semite , he was a notorious womanizer and serial adulterer who carried on affairs with the wives of some of his closest friends and associates ,  a  megalomaniacal  self-centered  and unscrupulous man who  ran up  enormous expenses in his private life to live a luxurious lifestyle  while  regularly  evading his creditors , and often made  obnoxious statements  about  composers  whose music he disliked , which included most of his contemporaries . 

    But many great composers  have been  guilty of  reprehensible behavior  , and Wagner was by no means the only composer with  anti-semitic views  .  You have to separate the man from his music .   Wagner's stage works  are towering masterpieces , and  the protagonists ,including  such fascinating  characters as Tristan and Isolde , Wotan, ruler of the Gods in the mighty  tetraology the Ring of the Nibelung,  his daughter the Valkyrie Brunnhilde , the evil  dwarf  Alberich who is Wotan's  arch enemy ,  the  cobbler poet Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg  ,  to name only several ,  are among the most  complex  and  many sided  characters in all opera .  John Philip Sousa called Wagner "The Shakespeare of music ".     This is why  Wagner's  immense and   complex  works  have  remained  relevant to the present day  . and will remain so far into the future .





Posted: May 21 2013, 10:15 PM by the horn | with no comments
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